Ibn Taymiyyah

Ibn Taymiyyah – Scholar and Statesman Part 2

“Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah:

Scholar and Statesman” – Part 2

Continued from part 1…

Ibn Taymiyyah’s Context:

  1. The residual presence of the crusades (afranj) around the Levant.
  2. The direct Tartar invasions of Muslim territories.
  3. The factionalism (inter-theological and inter-madhhab).
  4. Intellectual decline (closing the door of ijtihad and fanaticism).
  5. Spiritual deviation (certain incorrect ideas of Sufis circulating amongst the people).

[6] Political Awareness:

  • Ibn Taymiyyah had no official post within the various Islamic administrations like being the highest religious figure of the land (e.g. a Şeyhülislam); he was not – as far as we know – an appointed chief judge, official advisor to the Sultan or member of a religious council. Yet, despite this lack of official status, he was the most renowned and loved scholar within Damascus and neighbouring capitals. The reason for this is because he was devoted to the issues of the people, involved deeply with the matters that affected them and was busy engaged in upholding their concerns. He was a scholar of the people. His life is a testimony to this service for the Ummah.
  • Imam al-Dhahabi writes: “And he was loved by scholars and reformers alike as well as soldiers, rulers, traders and notables. He was also loved by the general people because he would stand up for their interests and benefits – day and night – through his words and his writings…”[1]

وله من الطرف الآخر محبّون من العلماء والصلحاء، ومن الجند والأمراء، ومن التجار والكبراء، وسائر العامة تحبه لأنه منتصب لنفعهم ليلا ونهارا، بلسانه وقلمه

  • Ibn Taymiyyah’s astute awareness of the political problems facing the Ummah led him to take action. He was not a scholar who merely acquired knowledge for the sake of teaching but for generating real change – in his case he had to engage in physical jihad with the oppression and attacks brought by the Tartars.
  • Imam al-Bazzar – one of the students of Ibn Taymiyyah – states in his biography of his shaykh: “He was – Allah be pleased with him – the bravest of people and the most Allah-fearing of them in his heart; I have not seen anyone more composed then him nor one greater in performing jihad against the enemy; he would fight the enemy in the path of Allah with his heart, his tongue and his hands fearing none even if the blamers blame.”

كان – رضي الله عنه – من أشجع الناس، وأقواهم قلبا، ما رأيت أحدا أثبت جأشا منه، ولا أعظم غناء في جهاد العدو منه، كان يُجاهد في سبيل الله بقلبه، ولسانه ويده لا يخاف في الله لومة لائم

[a] Bravery: Ibn Taymiyyah was fearless. He was bold and blunt in his approach to change matters. He did not take obligations lightly. In 699 AH for example, when the Muslim army in Misr (Egypt) was unsuccessful in holding off Tartar army from Damascus, almost all of the inhabitants of the city had fled and so the few remaining patricians of the city, among them Ibn Taymiyyah, decided to confront the Tartar ruler Kazan[2] and demand a halt. While the others trembled in his presence and would dare not speak out, Ibn Taymiyyah, along with a group of his students, was uninhibited and strongly defended truth and justice. One of his companions in the delegation recounts Ibn Taymiyyah’s courage: “I was with the Shaykh on this occasion. He set forth in his address to the King the Qur’anic verses and ahadith enjoining fairness and just conduct. His voice gradually rising, he was drawing nearer to the Kazan until his knees were about to touch those of Kazan who was attentively listening to the Ibn Taymiyyah but did not appear to be displeased with him. He was straining his ears as if struck with awe. At last he asked: ‘Who is he? I have never seen a man like him — so brave and courageous; none has made a dent in my heart as he!’ Ibn Taymiyyah was then introduced to the ruler upon which he said: “You claim to be a Muslim. We have been told that you have with you a Qadi and an Imam, a Sheikh and a mu’adhdhin; yet you have deemed it proper to march upon Muslims. Why is that? … You have made contracts, but have reneged on them and you make claims and promises but were not true to them.”[3]

أنت تزعم أنك مسلم ومعك مؤذن وقاض وإمام وشيخ على ما بلغنا، فغزوتنا وغزوت بلادنا على ماذا؟ … وأنت عاهدت فغدرت، وقلت فما وفيت

  • Ibn Taymiyyah continued: “Your forefathers were heathens, but they always abstained from breaking the promise once made by them. They redeemed the pledges they made, but you violate the word of honour given by you. You trample underfoot your solemn declarations in order to lay a hand on the servants of Allah!”[4]
  • He was known to have said: “One only has fear for other than Allah if he has a sickness in his heart.”[5]

لن يخاف الرجل غير الله إلا لمرض في قلبه

[7] Positive Reformer:

[a] His anti-takfiri stance: Ibn Taymiyyah was not a takfiri. He was not concerned with investigating peoples’ `aqidah.  He considered Prayer behind sinners and never argued for a person to seek out the creed of a Muslim and target them.[6] Imam al-Dhahabi reports in Siyar al-A`lam al-Nubala’ about Ibn Taymiyyah’s recant from theological denunciation: “When the time of death (ajal) came close to Abu ’l-Hasan al-Ash`ari in my house in Baghdad, he called me, so I went to him and then he said: ‘Be my witness! I don’t excommunicate anyone from the people of qiblah, for everyone worships the same deity and the differences are merely in expression and terminology.” I [s: Imam al-Dhahabi] said: ‘this is what I hold to. Likewise our Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah in his last days would say: ‘I don’t excommunicate anyone from the Ummah and would also say: ‘The Prophet, (saw) said: “Only a believer is mindful of wudu’; so whoever clings to the prayers with wudu’ is a Muslim’…”[7]

لما قرب حضور أجل أبي الحسن الأشعري في داري ببغداد، دعاني فأتيته، فقال : اشهد عليّ أني لا أكفر أحداً من أهل القبلة، لأن الكل يشيرون إلى معبود واحد، وإنما هذا كله اختلاف العبارات. قلت – أي الذهبي – : وبنحو هذا أدين، وكذا كان شيخنا ابن تيمية في أواخر أيامه يقول: أنا لا أكفر أحداً من الأمة، ويقول: قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” لا يحافظ على الوضوء إلا مؤمن” فمن لازم الصلوات بوضوء فهو مسلم

[b] Commanding right: Ibn Taymiyyah was at the forefront of commanding right and forbidding wrong. He was extremely conscious of purging society from unwarranted religious accretions as well as incorrect practices. He would compose treatises on this duty and account the scholars of his time who make excuses for not engaging in the practice.[8] He would be known to engage in enjoining what is right physically by for example breaking alcohol kegs and confiscating unlawful items in public.

  • Commanding right and forbidding wrong extended to the political sphere. When the Tartar ruler heard Ibn Taymiyyah with a small delegate of students was on his way to visit him in order to discuss peace for the city of Damascus they prepared food for them. When offered food, Ibn Taymiyyah’s reply was: “‘How can I eat this food which you have obtained unlawfully from the peoples’ cattle and cooked from the vegetables that have been unlawfully taken from the pastures of the people?’”[9]

ولما قربوا الطعام، فأكلوا إلا شيخ الإسلام، فقيل له: ألا تأكل؟ فقال: كيف آكل من طعام وكله مما نهبتم من أغنام الناس، وطبختموه بما قطعتم من أشجار الناس

[c] His call for unity: contrary to what many depict him as, Ibn Taymiyyah was not a sectarian figure and his aims were not to condemn and – as just outlined – excommunicate the majority. In fact, his general statements indicate the contrary.

  • Regarding the Shia – who he debated extensively and refuted – he said: “And among the Shia some are deeply devotional, scrupulous and ascetic…”[10]

والرافضة فيهم من هو متعبد متورع زاهد 

  • Regarding the Mu`tazilah he remarked: “[…] despite their differences, they aided and helped Islam in many places and refuted the disbelievers and heretics with clear rational proofs…”[11]

أنه مع مخالفتهم نصروا الإسلام في مواطن كثيرة وردوا على الكفار والملاحدة بحجج عقلية

  • Regarding the Ash`aris who he showed the staunchest opposition to, he states that: “they are the closest group of the ahl al-kalam to ahl al-sunnah wa ’l-jama`ah…rather in those lands where there is unwarranted innovation (bid`ah), they [s: the Ash`aris], the Mu`tazilah and even the Shias will be ahl al-Sunnah [s: because they are opposing this bid`ah and heresy in that land]…”[12]

إنهم أقرب طوائف أهل الكلام إلى السنة والجماعة، وهو يعدون من أهل السنة والجماعة عند النظر إلى مثل المعتزلة والرافضة وغيرهم، بل هم أهل السنة والجماعة في البلاد التي يكون أهل البدع فيها هم المعتزلة والرافضة ونحوهم

  • However, despite all these different sects amongst the Muslims – irrespective of how deviant one may think they are – the Muslims must be just and fair to them because being oppressive towards them is absolutely forbidden. This is Ibn Taymiyyah’s stern statement: “However, despite all these [views], ahl al-Sunnah must behave justly and fairly with them without oppressing anyone of them because oppression and injustice is absolutely forbidden as we outlined earlier…”[13]

مع هذا فأهل السنة يستعملون معهم العدل والإنصاف ولا يظلمونهم فإن الظلم حرام مطلقا كما تقدم 

Immediate lessons to learn from Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s life:

  1. Defense of Islam through words and deeds.
  2. The need to struggle against occupation and political oppression.
  3. The need to be forgiving and caring against one’s enemies.
  4. The need to be on a unified front against what dangers and harms Islam (in his time it was certain mystical and philosophical ideas).


Online References:

  1. http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/deconstructing-ibn-taymiyya%E2%80%99s-views-on-suicidal-missions
  2. http://shaykhulislaam.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/ibn-taymiyyah-leader-of-the-believers/
  3. http://sunnahonline.com/library/purification-of-the-soul/373-ibn-taymiyyahs-letters-from-prison
  4. http://www.islamicawakening.com/viewarticle.php?articleID=519
  5. http://islamicstudent.net/blog/2010/09/30/ibn-taymiyyah-one-of-my-heroes/


S. Z. Chowdhury,

Cyprus, 2004.

[1] al-Dhahabi’s extended biographical segment (here abbreviated as Tarjamah) on Ibn Taymiyyah edited from the manuscript (fols.38a-45b) by `Akkashah in Masa’il wa ’l-Ajwibah, p.237.

[3] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah, 14:89f.

[4] Ibid., 14:89f.

[5] al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali`, 1:70.

[7] al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-A`lam al-Nubala’, 15:88.

[9] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah, 14:89.

[10] Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah, 5:157.

[11] Cf. Ibn Tymiyyah, Dar’ Ta`rud al-`Aql wa’l-Naql, 7:245.

[12] Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Majmu` al-Fatawa, 8:230; cf. also 6:55 and 35:101.

[13] Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah, 5:157.


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